State Politics

Here’s how much taxpayers owe after NC lawmakers’ Wake County maps found unconstitutional

From left, Wake County Superintendent of Schools James Merrill,Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, Chair of the Wake County School Board Christine Kushner, Chair of the Wake County Commissioners James West and School Board member Tom Benton, listen during a joint meeting between the Wake Co. Commissioners and the Wake Co. School Board held at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Jan. 26, 2015.
From left, Wake County Superintendent of Schools James Merrill,Wake County Commissioner Caroline Sullivan, Chair of the Wake County School Board Christine Kushner, Chair of the Wake County Commissioners James West and School Board member Tom Benton, listen during a joint meeting between the Wake Co. Commissioners and the Wake Co. School Board held at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Jan. 26, 2015. News & Observer file photo

Taxpayers are on the hook for more than $400,000 in legal costs that will be paid to the people who successfully challenged election maps that state lawmakers drew up for the Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board.

Last year, federal judges sided with a coalition of left-leaning voters and groups who accused the Republican-led state legislature of drawing up unconstitutional election maps for Wake County. On Friday, U.S. Chief District Court Judge James C. Dever III ordered state government and the Wake County Board of Elections to pay $407,281 of the $738,205 in attorneys fees and court costs requested by the challengers.

Taxpayers are also responsible for paying the legal fees spent defending the Wake maps.

In 2013, the General Assembly redrew the lines for all nine Wake school board seats, turning two into regional districts with each covering about half the county. In 2015, state legislators changed the Wake commissioner lines to match those used by the school board.

Republican lawmakers denied that the new Wake maps, which replaced ones adopted in 2011 by both boards, were created for partisan reasons. But the maps were changed after Democrats captured all seven seats on the board of commissioners and the majority on the school board.

In July 2016, a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the election maps were unconstitutional, saying they violated equal representation – or “one person, one vote” – principles in the U.S. Constitution, and gave unfair advantages to voters in suburban districts.

In response, Dever ordered Wake to hold elections last November for school board and commissioners using the 2011 maps.

It’s unclear what will happen in 2018 with Wake elections. Terms expire next year for all the commissioners and school board members. State lawmakers, who have redrawn state House and Senate and U.S. House maps to replace ones that were also declared unconstitutional, have not yet drawn up new maps for Wake.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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